By Julie Benezet:

Humor is an underestimated tool in moving business conversations forward. One of the reasons is that making a witty observation involves risking that the audience might be offended, unimpressed or simply not amused. You do not know how it will go until you put your comment into the airspace. However, it is only by putting it out there that you get the possible benefit of defusing a tense situation. The most seasoned comic does not know how a witty comment will land, and yet the show must go on.

The Impact of Tension: How does humor apply to business? A typical business day can be awash with tense, confusing and awkward moments. Getting through those moments requires some kind of strategy. Tension makes it hard for people to engage and listen. To get them back into the conversation, you need to bring down the stress in the room.

That is where humor comes in as a helpful tool.


Humor Put To Work – A Story: A real estate development executive was excited to have convinced a senior credit officer from a large bank to meet with the development team to discuss financing a new project. The development executive opened the meeting with a big smile and announced how pleased he was to have the bank come visit. Unfortunately, instead of naming the bank of the visiting banker, he named a competing bank.

The gaff produced a thick, embarrassed silence. The banker obviously was not pleased, and the team was tongue-tied. That is, until a senior manager at the table quipped, “well, this will be a short meeting.” The room filled with laughter from everyone, including the banker. The tension broken, the meeting proceeded without a further hitch.

The senior manager did not know how his humorous remark would play, but he decided to take the risk. It paid off. Obviously, the remark needed to not impugn any individual or thing other than to state a possible, but silly consequence of what in the scheme of business life was not a huge error. People who have to raise money have to talk with a lot of banks, and that they would confuse the names in a stressful moment is more than possible. The senior manager recognized this and decided that even without knowing the banker, he would take a chance and make his remark.

The Moral of the Story: We never know for sure how what we think is a witty remark will land with others. However, applying good judgment and taste to what we know about a situation, our bringing humor into the room may be well worth the risk of not knowing exactly how it will go.

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